Revolt of the Zombies (1936)
“Weirdest story in 2000 years!”
Director: Victor Halperin
Cast: Dorothy Stone, Dean Jagger, Roy D’Arcy
Synopsis: An international expedition is sent into Cambodia to destroy an ancient formula that turns men into zombies.
The reputation suffered by Revolt of the Zombies would suggest that it belongs somewhere down there in Cinema’s Hall of Shame, but it isn’t actually anywhere near as bad as that reputation suggests. That doesn’t mean it’s particularly good, but it isn’t spectacularly, Ed-Woodishly, Santa-Claus-Conquers-the-Martians-ishly *bad*.
An impossibly young Dean Jagger plays tame Armand Louque, a reserved young man on an expedition to find the source of a unit of zombies who fought the French forces on the Austrian border in WW1. Louque’s fiance, Claire (Dorothy Duval) comes along for the ride, as does old war comrade Clifford Grayson (Robert Noland). Grayson is the complete antithesis of Louque: an extrovert who believes that a person should satisfy their own desires no matter what the cost to others. Of course, Grayson’s desires are fired by the comely (and willing) Dorothy — which is a bad thing for the pair of them when Louque discovers how to control people’s minds and turn them into zombies…
The pace of this film is extremely slow. At times it seems to forget it is a horror film and gets absorbed in the menage-a-trois that develops between the three protagonists. And yet, paradoxically, some aspects zip along at breakneck pace (unlike the ‘zombies’ who saunter around like Sunday afternoon shoppers at your local garden centre). No sooner does the hapless Louque find himself engaged to Dorothy than, two scenes later, he finds himself unceremoniously dumped — a fact that makes it a little difficult to sympathise with the lovers when the worm turns. Although, as I mentioned, the pace is slow, it isn’t any slower than many other films of its era. Take Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, for example. Dracula is slow, the acting is stagy ( and camp) but most people consider it to be a classic. ‘Horror’ movies from that era paid a lot more attention to character development than they do today, and it’s unrealistic to expect anything like the stalk-and-slash rituals of the modern-day genre.
Revolt of the Zombies is poor in many respects; much of the acting is third-rate — although Jagger, while not the finished article, displays a pleasing talent — and editing and continuity are particularly slapdash at times. But it seems fairly clear that Halperin has made an attempt to deliver a decent story and to involve the viewer with the plight of the main characters while operating within the constraints of a minuscule budget. And there are a couple of effective moments: an early scene, in which we see an advancing ‘army’ (about four men to be honest) of zombies in the WW1 trenches is well done, and it’s a shame Halperin didn’t concentrate on this aspect of the story — had he done so he would have beaten the first horror movies (to my knowledge) to be set in the Trenches by some sixty years. There are also a couple of good montage sequences, played out under the piercing stare of Bela Lugosi’s eyes, which were stolen from Halperin’s earlier zombie flick, White Zombie.
This is no classic, but, judged against the standards of its day, it’s no turkey either, and will appeal to fans of vintage horror.
(Reviewed 7th September 2005)